Chesnutt's Works

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The goal of The Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive is to make works by and about Chesnutt readily and freely accessible to scholars, students, and general readers.

One of the most important African American writers working before the Harlem Renaissance, Charles Chesnutt was born in 1858 in the North but grew up in the South, where he attended a North Carolina school funded by the Freedmen's Bureau and where he witnessed the end of Reconstruction and the limited but important political gains Reconstruction had made possible for African Americans in the South.

Early in life Chesnutt decided to devote himself to becoming an author, and after several years as a teacher in North Carolina normal schools, he visited New York in 1879 hoping to find an entrée into an elite literary world. In 1883, he settled in Cleveland and began publishing stories in the Atlantic Monthly and other literary magazines. By 1901, Chesnutt had published three novels, one biography, and two collections of short stories, and by his death he had published over one hundred stories, essays, reviews, and poems. His oeuvre represents a critically important chapter in American literary history, and he was the first African American fiction writer to see his works reach a national audience.

A recent renaissance in Chesnutt studies has made some of his published and unpublished works available in modern editions, and several etext libraries include selected works. But there is no comprehensive digital archive for Chesnutt, and that is the goal of this site. Currently, the site offers thirty-six stories, seventeen essays, one novel, one biography, three poems, and five reviews by Chesnutt. In addition, the site offers over three hundred reviews of Chesnutt's works and other essays and notices about Chesnutt.

In 2019, the Chesnutt Archive was awarded a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As part of this project, the entire Chesnutt Archive site will be converted to TEI-compliant XML and redesigned, creating a more user-friendly interface and making all text and project metadata fully searchable. Additionally, the site's manuscript wing will be expanded to include transcriptions and page images of Chesnutt's corrected galley proofs for four of his major works—The Conjure Woman, Frederick Douglass, The House Behind the Cedars, and The Marrow of Tradition. Chesnutt was an indefatigable reviser, reworking everything, from setting, plot, and dialogue to character development and narrative tone. Making available an initial collection of hand-corrected galleys for four major works and developing a well-structured, extensible manuscript wing will begin to illuminate the workshop of one of the nation’s finest writers. The restructuring and redesigning of the Chesnutt Archive site will more easily allow for the project to grow and change, always with the goal of providing a comprehensive digital collection of Chesnutt materials and a collection that meets the evolving standards for electronic scholarly archives. The Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) has been vital in this ongoing renovation and expansion of the Chesnutt Digital Archive.

We have obtained permissions to use or reproduce images and text. Please contact Dr. Stephanie Browner (browners@newschool.edu) if you think our crediting is insufficient or our use of a particular item is inappropriate. This is an educational and scholarly site and the material here is the result of the hard work of many people, including students, professors, librarians, and technical staff, and many have volunteered their time and labor. We request that material on this site not be reproduced without permission. All material from Fisk University appears here by permission, and should not be reproduced without direct permission from Fisk University Library. Special thanks to: Mike Freiermuth for extensive contributions to many sections of the archive; Steve Gowler for help in the Berea Hutchins Library; Stacie Brisker for assistance at the Cleveland Public Library; Katherine Walter, co-director of CDRH at UNL; and Beth Howse and DeLisa Minor Harris, Reference Librarians for Special Collections, and Jessie Carney Smith, Dean of the John and Aurelia Hope Franklin Library, Fisk University. All have been enormously generous with their time and assistance.

This site was originally created by Stephanie Browner and is now edited by Browner, Matt Cohen, Kenneth M. Price, and the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.